Even in a city
where the rebuilding of public space has taken on such critical importance, the
development of the Lafitte Corridor in New Orleans presents a unique
Katrina devastated the area in 2005, socially and economically as well as
physically, a lot of time and money has been invested in helping New Orleans
grow into a city that better serves a diverse, vibrant and modern population.
Conservancy is closely involved in that effort. For the past two years, RTC
staff have been working with the city of New Orleans and Friends of the Lafitte
Corridor (FOLC), mobilizing community involvement in the exciting development
of this 3.1-mile right-of-way into a greenway of public space and trails,
connecting nine historical districts between the Tremé and Lakeview
Corridor project is being funded by a $7.6-million Community Block Development
Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
What makes the plan unique is its breadth. The neighborhoods around the proposed greenway house
some of the poorest residents and the most wealthy, people of all colors and
characteristics. The needs for
each range from improving pedestrian access to shops and services, providing
recreational space for young families and seniors, stimulating housing
development, to addressing public safety issues connected to blight and crime.
months of talking in broad, hopeful brush strokes about the potential of this corridor of disused rail tracks, the time has now arrived for
concrete ideas to hit the drawing board. In August, RTC's trail development
specialists Kelly Pack and Lindsay Martin assisted with the critical first
public meetings in the planning process. Hosted by the city's contracted design
consultants, Design Workshop of Austin, Texas, the week-long workshops were a
chance for the people who will actually live near and use the greenway to say
what they hope it will become.
elected officials as "the first glimpse of hope since the storm," there is much
at stake in the development of the Lafitte Corridor greenway. It has the
potential to not only greatly improve the city's bike and pedestrian
transportation system, but also to revitalize real estate and commercial
activity by connecting neighborhoods and businesses with a large public space
designed for recreation and community activity.
Much of last
month's public engagement was concerned with ensuring the design consultants
had accurately recorded citizens' desires for the space. Using real-time
electronic 'clicker' polling, the consultants learned that making the corridor
a safe place, promoting healthy living and removing blight from the area were
the top three community goals for the project. A community garden was the top
facility priority, followed by art and sculpture, fitness stations and an
amphitheater for public performances. Most residents said they would use the
greenway primarily to travel between neighborhoods, and for passive recreation.
Automobile/pedestrian conflicts, loitering and crime topped the list of
feedback what emerged is that residents see the greenway as becoming a
community gathering place," Pack says. "Although the trail will always be a
central part of the greenway, we think that at first many people will be drawn
to it for other reasons--to play, relax with friends and family, for an event.
When they become familiar with the greenway, then they will start to use the
trail for getting around as part of their everyday lives."
Pack says the
trail corridor's intersection with eight busy roadways will present a
significant challenge for designers; only if pedestrians and cyclists feel the
trail is a safe and convenient option to riding on the road will it attract
regular use. When the designer comes back to the community with a series of
refined concept plans in November, the intersection issue will no doubt be a
drawing boards at the moment carry only hypothetical options and a sketch of
community wants, there is already a good deal of optimism.
These expectations can, however, be a double-edged sword: with a strong program of community
involvement in public projects comes a strong sense of community ownership.
Pressure on the city and its design consultants will be intense to bring to
fruition a greenway the community expects.
when the consultant presented a preliminary concept map, there's was a lot of
excitement in the room," Martin says. "But the planners were quick to point out
that the money isn't there to make this all happen at once. This is not what
you're going to get right off the bat."
consultants see the Lafitte corridor being developed in phases. As core
elements go in--a paved trail, restrooms, shady parks, perhaps a community garden--a community life emerging organically will attract businesses to the area,
boost home sales nearby. This activity will generate tax receipt income for the
city, and coupled with future infrastructure budgets and developer
contributions, will fund additional stages like skate parks, spraygrounds or playgrounds,
facilities for public concerts.
What has been
made clear is that the corridor will be a place geared toward fulfilling the recreation
and transportation needs of the area's residents, not tourists.
Between now and
November, when the consultant is due to present a shortlist of design options,
the challenge for residents and the FOLC will be to maintain a high-level of
public involvement in the redevelopment in order to ensure the residents' input continues to be heard, to carry
A new Lafitte
Corridor greenway will not be an instant fix for these struggling
neighborhoods. Like the broader city around it, improvements will come with a
consistent period of planning acumen and time. Still, if the
drawing board is anything to go by, there is certainly some basis for all this
Learn more about the Lafitte Corridor and RTC's work in New Orleans, which is supported by The Kresge Foundation as part of the Urban Pathways Initiative.
Photos courtesy of Bart Everson/Friends of the Lafitte Corridor.